Motivated by a struggling education system, Nevada lawmakers are trying for the 23rd time since 1975 to establish a statewide lottery by amending the Nevada Constitution. They say a history of failures and past opposition by the states dominant casino industry wont keep them from trying again.
Advocates say a lotterys potential profits, after prizes and operating expenses are deducted, could generate from $30 million to $70 million each year for education money they say is sorely needed.
Nevada ranks 48th in overall education spending. Class sizes are high and test scores are low.
We have some pretty grim statistics when it comes to education, said Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas. A state lottery will give us a chance to break the barrier and improve education with a consistent funding source and without increasing taxes.
AJR2, introduced Friday, is sponsored by Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, Buckley and 38 others in the 63-member Legislature.
Most are Democrats but 11 Republicans also signed on, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno. The resolution is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the Assembly Education Committee.
The money generated by a lottery would buy textbooks and reduce class sizes. Buckley said only 23 percent of Nevadas fourth-graders are proficient or better in math, and only 20 percent are at that level in reading.
Its clear when you deny children textbooks and the time of teachers, you deny them education, she said.
Proponents want the state to take part in Powerball, a multistate game that offers higher jackpots and higher returns than single-state lotteries.
Powerballs annual sales are about $2 billion in 27 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands, said Charles Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association.
Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, another co-sponsor, has asked the state Gaming Control Board to determine whether Nevada could join Powerball without a constitutional amendment. She expects an answer soon, but says it doesnt look promising.
Legislators would have to approve a constitutional amendment twice, this session and in 2007, and voters would have final say in 2008. If approved, it would replace a 1990 amendment that limits lotteries to nonprofit and charitable organizations, and then only as raffles or drawings.
A poll conducted by the Reno Gazette-Journal in late January shows 76 percent of 600 likely Nevada voters support creation of a lottery. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 points. Buckley said she also received positive response from educators.
David Gale, executive director of the nonprofit North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, said states collect an average of 30 cents of every dollar spent on lotteries they sponsor.
When lotteries start up, they determine where money can be best used. In some states that happens to be education, Gale said. But in every lottery jurisdiction & if the lotteries werent in existence those programs would be cut or people would experience tax increases.
Of nearly $49 billion in U.S. lottery ticket sales in fiscal 2004, about $14 billion in net profits went to states, Gale said.
The more and more states that come into the fold, the more states are taking a hard look at lotteries, Gale said. They see the dollars leaving their states when people go (to surrounding states with lotteries) to get their tickets.
In the past, the Nevada gambling industry has been successful in helping to kill the many lottery proposals that have come before the Legislature, state Archivist Guy Rocha said. Casinos have been concerned that lotteries would take business away.
For years, any time someone pursued a lottery, the casino interests lined up against it, Rocha said. This is not a modern phenomenon.
This time around, though, some in the casino industry are staying on the sidelines.
Bill Bible, president of the Nevada Resort Association, said there are a number of arguments for and against lotteries. But he said because opinions vary among casinos, many of which he represents, there has been no consensus and little discussion of the proposal.
Lesley Pittman, spokeswoman for Station Casinos, said theres little wisdom behind a proposal that would have the state competing with Nevadas largest employer and largest private industry.
Station gives $500,000 each year to Clark Countys highest-need elementary schools, she said.
Still, Buckley said industry resistance has tapered off.
Some opposition could come from within the Democratic Party.
Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, who didnt sign on, said he doesnt oppose a lottery. But he said he wont support it if it allows advertising that could reach children, and he might offer a no-advertising amendment.
I dont think the state should be in the business of encouraging people to gamble, he said. (Ads) strongly encourage people to gamble. They encourage young people, kids. You cant avoid touching the family.